Glove Love: A Multi-Part Series on Baseball Glove Appreciation, Purchase, and Care
Part I: The Birth and Acceptance of the Baseball Glove
By: Marty Winkler
Throughout the history of baseball, there have been many men whose names have been immortalized for their accomplishments on the field or their larger-than-life personalities.
Babe Ruth. Joe DiMaggio. Ted Williams. Tony Gwynn. Rickey Henderson. Ken Griffey Jr. These men are some of the greatest to ever play, but none of them were able to change the game the same way as first baseman, Charlie Waitt.
Waitt’s name is lost to over 150 years of professional baseball history, and when you look at his career stats, it’s no surprise as to why. Between 1875 and 1883, Waitt played four seasons of professional baseball with four different teams. He collected 67 hits in 406 career at-bats (good enough for an average of .165) and drove in a grand total of 14 runs over his career. Baseball Reference has his career WAR at -0.3. Waitt was a slightly below average player at best, so it’s understandable how even the most dedicated baseball fans have never heard his name.
So with a career as forgettable as Waitt’s, why is he so important to the history of the game? The answer to this question is quite simple. So simple, in fact, that just about anyone in baseball completely overlooks his accomplishment. Charlie Waitt was the first professional player on record to use a baseball glove.
During a game in the summer of 1875, Waitt took the field for the St. Louis Brown Stockings donning a pair of leather gloves. These gloves were nothing like the baseball gloves we know today. These were much more primitive. These gloves were made of horsehide and had the fingers cut off to allow for a better grip when throwing the ball.
Waitt was ridiculed by fellow players and fans alike. Baseball was considered a rough game, played by tough men. And wearing gloves was considered a sign of weakness. This did not deter Waitt from continuing to use gloves in the field. However, he did attempt to hide them by using gloves that were closer to the color of his own skin.
Baseball gloves have come a long way since Waitt first took the field with them over 140 years ago. Gloves were made larger with extra padding and enclosed fingers, allowing for players to field with one hand, and still throw normally with their dominant hand. After 1920, a web was added between the first finger and the thumb creating a pocket and a more modern design with which we are all more familiar.
Today, gloves are synonymous with the game of baseball. Now every player takes their glove with them into the field, even though there is still no rule in Major League Baseball requiring players to use one.
While Waitt tried to hide the fact that he wore gloves, today’s players see their glove as an extension of their personality with customized stitching, multiple colors, and even different style webs. What was once a point of criticism, is now a point of pride.
Charlie Waitt will never be mentioned among those players in the Hall of Fame. His career numbers won’t even show up on the very last page of career leaders. He never hit a home run. But his impact on the game is undeniable. Babe Ruth. Joe DiMaggio. Ted Williams. Tony Gwynn. Rickey Henderson. Ken Griffey, Jr. They were all great. They also all wore a glove.